Friday, January 8, 2016

Once a month meal planning - January

Trying out this new thing, where I only plan monthly instead of weekly. I don't know that I'll do this indefinitely, but January is always a rough month for me and this one will be particularly insane. Work is crazy for me, D is going to be studying a lot, we're going to be moving. I didn't take the moving thing into account when I made this schedule, so part of me feels like I've already failed, but I'll adjust as necessary.

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I've always been a weekly meal planner but I'm a fairly repetitive cook. I tend to make the same few dishes regularly, so I figured - why not run with it? Those of you who like to make new things all the time will probably die of boredom just looking at my list. I did have that month where I tried making a different (new) dish every weeknight and it was fun, but not sustainable for me.

What I did here was assign each night of the week a different theme. Mondays are spiralizer nights (and you'll notice that this month I'm just sticking with our favorite - sweet potato noodles with bolognese). Tuesdays are lentils, and this month I'm alternating between two of my favorite recipes. Wednesdays are crockpot nights as long as it's chilly. Thursdays are for baked potatoes and Fridays are for whatever can be made as fast as possible, because I have a three hour weekly meeting on Friday evenings and by the time I get home I'm exhausted and starving.

I've front loaded the recipes that involve actual cooking at the beginning of the week. That leaves me flexibility because if we have too many leftovers I can just skip the planned Thu-Fri meals and the ingredients will keep till next week (or the weekend). We're only in the first week and I'm already taking advantage of that because D ended up having lunch meetings every day this week and didn't need to take any lunches to work, so the three cooked meals will probably carry us.

As usual, I don't meal plan for weekends, because we often end up being out and about and if we're at home there's generally leftovers or something quick.

Can't decide if I'm going to get super bored and go off the rails. I actually don't think this is much more repetitive than I am normally, but there's something about seeing it all laid out that makes it feel more repetitive.

Recipes that I'm using this month: 

Sweet potato noodles with bolognese - not a real recipe, but I mention it in my spiralizer post and it's one of our favorites. I bought all the meat at once and divided it up and froze it into four portions. If I was truly getting serious, I could have made a huge batch of marinara to portion and freeze but I just bought four jars. Baby steps.
Coconut curried red lentils 
Black lentils with caramelized onions
Butternut squash coconut chili (new to me)
Chicken in cashew nut sauce - as usual, I'll make a double batch of the sauce and freeze half for next month
Sweet potato and black bean chili - I love this recipe and I've been making it about every three weeks to use up the odds and ends of sweet potato leftover from spiralizing.
Chicken enchilada soup - still a favorite around here.

This month is going to completely decimate my freezer supply of homemade chicken broth, so I'll probably make sure that a couple of our weekend meals consist of rotisserie chicken so I can restock. The homemade broth makes such a huge difference in soups.

I did most of our shopping last weekend and it was surprisingly not that much work. We're only two people, and there are a few things I'll have to pick up weekly (salad greens and produce) but all in all it was really manageable. It was also really cheap. I know the bill will go up because we'll still be purchasing things throughout the month, but it was crazy to see what a small portion of our grocery budget went towards the bulk of our food needs this month. The lentils help with that. We're not vegetarian (clearly) but I try to limit how much meat I eat and this is the general level that I'm comfortable with. This month we have red meat once per week (but we each get two servings because there are leftovers) and we have chicken every other week (again, we each get a couple servings). I've posted about how we approach meat here.

I'm mildly obsessed with meal planning and don't hesitate to switch up my system as our lives change, so you can find lots of other posts on it here if you search "meal plan." My original post on developing my meal planner is here and my 2014 update is here. This post is about coming up with your own system. Here is a post on three weeks of meals in detail.

17 comments:

  1. I make weekly soups and lentils too, and am an evangelist for the homemade bouillon paste from 101 Cookbooks. Homemade broth in its liquid form takes up all my freezer real estate which I'd rather fill with soup and leftovers for nights I don't want to cook. The paste is genius - a fun project, super delicious and doesn't need defrosting. (But to be fair I also don't love chicken broth so am generally happy with veggie.) http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/homemade-bouillon-recipe.html

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    1. Ooooh - love that! Thank you so much for sharing! I make chicken broth because it seems like a good way to use up the bones and I like it, but I do love a good veggie broth and freezer space is definitely an issue for me as well! Might try to come up with a version of this that uses dried mushrooms, because mushroom broth is my fave.

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    2. I think you definitely could add mushrooms - she says the recipe is adaptable! Glad you like it! (And I too make broth whenever I have bones - this comment was partly inspired by my efforts to use up all the turkey broth from Thanksgiving while comparing their multiple jars with the single jar of paste that will last me for 6 months!)

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  2. One thing that helps me is that I keep track of what I make every month, and rate it, and so when I'm stumped for what I want to make in any given month, I can just look at the same month from years past, and see what worked... It's a little OCD/annoying to keep track as I cook/bake, but I'm always glad that I did it. The chicken with cashew nuts sounds amazing! Thanks!

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    1. Smart! I tend to just print out recipes, write all over them and then hope that I remember to put them back in my recipe binder. Which reminds me that I should probably go through and do a clean out of the binder, to see what worked.

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    2. Rachel - I used to have a binder, but found it SO unwieldy, even after I completely reorganized it - I just didn't want to pull it out all the time. Now I tear recipes out of magazines, and just put them in a big pile... UGH. I feel like there's a better way to do it!

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    3. I have two binders, which seems to help! One is enormous and I keep tons of recipes in there, basically anything I think I will make again lives there. Then I have a small one that I think of as my weeknight binder. It has a subset of my recipes, just the tried and true ones, just the ones I could reasonably make for a weeknight dinner. No holiday recipes, no desserts, just the standard stuff that we tend to gravitate towards a lot. It's split into the sections I use when I'm meal planning and I rotate it a bit seasonally (i.e. since it's winter now I have the meal salad recipes pulled out ans stashed in the giant binder because cold dishes don't appeal to me as much right now and I have the soup recipes in their place).

      If I'm making dinner for company and want something more complex, or if I'm doing the holiday baking I pull out the big binder but for the most part I just use the small one for meal planning and it's much less overwhelming.

      Of course, this strategy works well for me because I'm okay with not having a huge repertoire of recipes for weeknights. If you like more variety, it might not work for you!

      I have a "testing" section in my giant binder and that's where I put recipes that I plan to try out. If I try one and like it I either rotate it into the weeknight binder or the appropriate section of the giant binder. Otherwise I toss it.

      I have to say, anything is better than the recipe cards I used growing up! I love them, but they would constantly get lost or moved into the wrong section or tucked in between the pages of a cookbook and it was so hard to flip through them while meal planning!

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    4. Thanks! I love that idea of everyday binder vs. big binder. To be honest, my big binder is in my basement (which isn't finished!). I aspire to put everything on a software program, and rate it, but haven't had the energy... Thank you!

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  3. I just have to say, I am completely amazed and jealous of your meal planning skills. You are an inspiration! :)

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    1. Awww, thanks hon! It's really just practice. I've been doing it for the last 16 years, so I've had plenty of time to play around with it and figure out what works for me.

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  4. I think one of the hardest things for me is being a single person and loving to cook and eat, but not having all that much time, and not wanting to waste food. Almost everything I make is "freezer ready" ---which is great, but not very exciting sometimes. That, and having a variety of produce. It all just gets...tricky. And many of the meal plans out there like this are set up for two or four people. The food lover's cleanse from Bon Appetit in particular seems like a great idea, but everything would require a lot of adaption to work.

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    1. This is such a good point! Someone should really write about this because I know plenty of people who are in the same position and would love some smart strategies.

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  5. I adore your meal planning posts and knowing what recipes work well for other busy couples. I just received a crock pot for my birthday (woo hoo 32!) and I've been looking for vegetarian recipes to try, going to try your sweet potato black bean recommendation this week. And I love the idea of monthly meal planning and having consistent meals. I am so Type A but somehow I can never find a meal planning system that works.

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    1. I am obsessed with that chili! It technically isn't a crockpot recipe, but I'm going to try it in my crockpot next time. It should adapt easily, just cook on low for 6 - 8 hours.

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  6. Weekly Friday evening meetings?! Isn't there a universal unwritten law against such things? :)

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    1. It is a huge bummer. Academia, man!

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  7. One of our weekly staples is tacos on corn tortillas, whatever meat we have, usually ground turkey or pork sauteed with onions and seasoned with cumin, paprika, chili powder, garlic salt, black pepper. To alleviate the guilt of having tacos weekly, I make a carrot/cabbage/cilantro slaw using my mandolin, adding lime juice and the juice from pickled jalapenos and some vinegar. I pile on the slaw and top with avocado and salsa. This way it's mostly vegetables! Super fast and always satisfying.

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